Liverpool face European champions Real Madrid for the second time in two weeks tonight in the Champions League. Rob Lyons discusses four key talking points ahead of tonight’s tie at the Santiago Bernabeu. Kick-off is at 7:45pm.
Real Madrid come into this game with the considerable advantage of being the in-form team of the two sides and by quite a distance. Real have now won eleven games in a row since losing the Madrid derby to Atletico back on the 13th of September.
Since then however, Carlo Ancelotti’s men have put in some superb displays, scoring five goals in four of those wins as well as putting eight past Deportivo La Coruna. Most importantly ahead of tonight’s clash though, they have conceded just two goals and scored ten in the Champions League this season, including a 3-0 hammering of Liverpool at Anfield two weeks ago.
Liverpool come into the game with a mixed bag of results. In the Reds’ last eleven games they have lost four and drawn three. Although this is not catastrophic form, even the best of sides in their greatest vein of form would struggle to overcome the force that is Real Madrid.
Crucially the Reds head into this game having won just one Champions League game over Ludogorets and losing their other two games to Real and Basil. This will be another stern test for Brendan Rodgers’ side, and one which they will likely find themselves outgunned once again, this time at the Bernabeu.
2. Gareth Bale returning
Not that Real Madrid were short of attacking options two weeks ago in Anfield but the fact that Gareth Bale could return to play for Real is another worry for the Reds boss as they travel to Spain.
Combine Bale with the players who made life a misery for the Anfield outfit such as James Rodriquez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Isco a couple of weeks ago and it could be an even tougher night. Whatever happens it looks likely we will see Bale at some stage tonight. Quoted on BBC Sport, Real boss Carlo Ancelotti had this to say.
“He’s ready to play. I don’t know if he will play from the off or on the bench.”
3. Resting Steven Gerrard
Reports this week suggest that Steven Gerrard could be rested ahead of the tie with a view to the Premier League game against Chelsea at the weekend. The Reds’ boss Brendan Rodgers, reported by the Irish Independent, had this to say.
“It is something I need to look at. He and I have spoken about that.
“Three big games, Newcastle, Madrid and then Chelsea. I need to look at a number of players and the games we want them to play in. We will see how that shapes up.”
“We have got three high-level games in a week and I have to think about that in preparation for the weekend. I also understand that we have to have a team that can come here and win.
“In Steven’s case, if he is playing on Saturday I have to look at what is the priority for him and us. If he played against Newcastle and didn’t play (against Madrid), you could say that (Chelsea is the priority). But I have also got to look at the fact we brought in other players.”
How well Liverpool can cope without one of their best midfielders is debatable. It is clear that at 34 Gerrard cannot be used as frequently as younger squad members, but as an experienced performer in Europe and a great leader on the pitch, will the Reds be swamped in midfield even more this time against the Spanish giants if he doesn’t play?
4. Forward options
Although Real Madrid don’t appear to have any weak points in any area of the pitch, their forward options stand out as not only being able to trump Liverpool’s but they are also quite capable, as shown at Anfield, of unravelling the Reds’ defence.
Karim Benzema who is there ‘out and out’ striker so to speak has managed nine goals already this season but it is another Ballon D’or nominee, Cristiano Ronaldo who has once again garnered most of the attention this side receives with an amazing 22 goals and we have only just entered November!
In addition to these options Isco and James Rodriguez tend to play a lot of the game in between the opposition’s midfield and defence, creating a terrifying combination of skill, speed and goal threat. As mentioned, Gareth Bale could feature tonight; a player exemplifying all of these attributes also.
Liverpool’s most potent attacking forces this season on the other hand aren’t even forwards. Gerrard and Raheem Sterling have three each with Mario Balotelli lagging behind with just two goals since joining the Reds. The sooner Daniel Sturridge returns, the better for the Merseysiders.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena